UN human rights chief Louise Arbour has given a press conference in Beijing at the end of her first ever visit to China, saying that she was “guardedly optimistic” about Chinese progress on human rights, but stated clearly that ‘human rights with Chinese characteristics’ was not an option.

Arbour told journalists “There are international standards that have to be met, it is not appropriate to say: ‘We are doing this our own way’.” This comes only days after Arbour opened the Asia-Pacific human rights symposium, where Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan said: “Every country should choose its own way to protect human rights according to its national situation.” China?s government has often defended its poor human rights record by saying that economic development must come before political rights.

Ms Arbour said she had raised the issue of religious repression, democratic freedoms and Beijing’s continued crackdown on the Tibetan and Muslim populations, though she hadn?t yet received any response to her questions.

Arbour also said she had urged China to improve its legal structure, especially regarding the much-criticized “re-education through labour” system and use of the death penalty. Ms Arbour said she was particularly concerned about the death penalty being used against ethnic minorities or the mentally ill.

“We know from worldwide experience that very often when you go beyond the numbers you uncover patterns of sometimes indirect discrimination … [and] disproportionate application of the harshest penalties, including often the death penalties, on minority groups, people suffering from mental illness,”

In a press release prior to Ms Arbour’s visit, the International Campaign for Tibet called on the UN human rights chief to “use her China visit to communicate to the Chinese authorities the urgent need for real improvement in the situation of the six million Tibetans under Chinese rule…and ensure that international agreements have an actual impact on the lives of ordinary Tibetans.”

To read the United Nations Press Release click here.